Sunday, May 11, 2014

Review: Palo Alto

Image courtesy of Tribeca Film.
It's difficult being a teen in a world of creepy adults. That's one of the thoughts that ran through my head while watching Gia Coppola's debut, "Palo Alto." Another was the old adage about youth being wasted on the young.

To her credit, Coppola does a pretty decent job of capturing the way youths talk amongst themselves, view adults and use humor to hide feelings. For better or worse, I thought to myself while watching the film that this was the way teenagers often sound.

The filmmaker takes some visual, musical and editing cues from her older cousin, Sofia Coppola, who has become one of cinema's best chroniclers of the lives of young people. One of the problems I had with "Palo Alto" was that while its portrayal of teenagers was pretty spot-on, the filmmakers do little to distinguish it from other films of this genre. It often feels too similar to Sofia Coppola's work or other recent films about youth, such as "The Myth of the American Sleepover."

On the other hand, the cast is up to the task. Emma Roberts is particularly convincing as April, a young woman drifting through school who gets involved with her soccer coach (James Franco in a creepy role), while Jack Kilmer - son of Val, who is also present here as April's stoner stepdad - excels as Teddy, a talented artist with two strikes against him after a drunken driving accident. There's also Teddy's friend, Fred (Nat Wolff), a reckless boy who steers his friend in the wrong direction and mistreats young women, and Emily (Zoe Levin), who allows boys to use her.

There's little in the way of story here, which is not a bad thing as the film takes a naturalistic approach to the material. Rather, the film seems to float through a few weeks in the lives of these characters as they plan their futures or, in some cases, fail to do so.

Coppola clearly has talent, especially with actors, so I wouldn't be surprised if her second feature surpasses this one. "Palo Alto" is often lovely to look at and has a dreamy end of summer feel to it, but it ultimately comes off as too stylistically familiar to slightly better pictures of its type to make it stand out. It's the type of film that I could almost recommend.

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